Our family has Eastern European roots, and one of our traditional foods is cabbage rolls. Cabbage rolls are much like BBQ is here in the US. Different regions have variations of the same basic recipe. Some involve a tomato stew poured on top, some are rolled in grape leaves instead of cabbage rolls, some include only meat—you get the picture. This recipe is one that we’ve made in our family for as long as I can remember. The same basic recipe is there, but over the years it has become more Americanized. The inclusion of Tony’s as seasoning, for example happened within the last 15 years.
We make cabbage rolls two times a year—New Year’s and Easter. The cabbage represents the money, just like cooked greens would in Southern traditions. We cook black eyed peas using the ham bone from Christmas to go with the rolls and eat it all day long. I hope you’ll give it a try.
A few very important notes before we move on to the recipe. Cabbage reacts with aluminum foil. I only use glass baking dishes. When I’m covering these for the fridge, I put plastic wrap on top. If you are concerned about the off-gassing of plastic wrap, you can top the cabbage rolls with a layer of wax paper or parchment before covering with the plastic wrap.
Ingredients (This recipe makes enough for at least two 9 1/2x11 Pyrex dish)
2 large heads of cabbage
2 lbs ground beef
2 lbs sausage (mild, hot, or one of both—your choice)
Approx 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped onions/green onions
3 large cloves garlic finely minced
3 small bell peppers or 2 large bell peppers finely chopped
3 ribs of celery finely chopped
Approx 3/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 cups dry white rice
4 cups water
Seasoning—salt, pepper, and Tony’s
Approx 6 slices of bacon
- Cook 2 cups rice in 4 cups water with 1 t. salt. (You can adjust the seasoning later if not salty enough). Bring rice to a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes. When timer goes off, remove from the stove and set aside.
- Rinse the cabbage well. Cut near the core of the cabbage so as to release the leaves. Set cabbage in a pot with a steamer basket. Cook just until the cabbage leaves will release and are slightly limp. As this happens remove each leaf with a pair of tongs. Be careful of the steam so as to not burn yourself. As you remove more leaves, you will need to pull the head out of the pot and again cut close to the core so that the leaves in the center will release. After all of the leaves have steamed, set them aside and let them cool.
- Once the cabbage leaves have released, you will need to rib them. See the step by step photos below. You will first turn the cabbage leaf so that the outside is facing you. Next take a knife and remove the rib. Save the ribs for the stuffing mixture.
- Now for the stuffing. Brown sausage and ground beef in a large pot with either a bit of cooking spray, a teaspoon of bacon grease, or a teaspoon of olive oil. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of both salt and pepper as it browns.
- Add all of the vegetables except for the parsley, including any cabbage ribs and the cabbage heart/core that you have reserved and chopped. Let the vegetables cook with the meat for about 5 minutes, or until they start to wilt.
- Add the parsley, mix, and drain well.
- In a very large mixing bowl, add the rice to the meat and vegetables. Then taste and season. Keep in mind that the cabbage which will hold the stuffing will not have any salt, so this mixture can be a little on the salty side. Once you have seasoned it to your liking, you will start the rolling process.
- Prepare your baking dishes by greasing them with either cooking spray, butter, or bacon grease. Know that you will pack the cabbage rolls in the baking dish very tightly. If you leave too much room in between each roll, they will fall apart.
- Roll and add cabbage rolls to the baking dish. See photos below. Cup the cabbage leaf in the palm of your hand. Add a small amount of the stuffing to the bottom center of the cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the stuffing. Fold each side over one another. Hold your thumb down on those pieces and roll the top of the leaf over.
- Cover the cabbage rolls with strips of bacon. If you like, use the inner cabbage leaves that are too small to roll to cover that. This helps to prevent them from burning.
- Bake at 325 degrees F for approx 30-45 minutes or until the bacon is done and the cabbage rolls are slightly browned. If you had any extra stuffing mixture left over, serve it on the side for people who do not like cabbage. Enjoy!